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Through the Eyes of the Wing Vendors

Buffalo chicken wing festival logo

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Wing King Drew Cerza’s Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival is a perfect opportunity for restaurants to market themselves and promote new sauces.  70,000+ wing-lovers will converge on Coca-Cola Field this weekend (Saturday noon to 9 p.m., Sunday noon to 7 p.m.), eager to brave the hottest sauce or taste-test new wing sauces.  Still, due to the sheer volume of the festival, each vendor uses “stock” wings—you’ve undoubtedly seen videos of the 50 tons of wings shipped into Buffalo this week. 

The reaction to a lack of control over the actual wings is mixed.  Some vendors see the festival structure as a challenge to produce the tastiest or hottest sauce, while others rely on meticulous cooking techniques. 

Alliger’s House of Wings, a Pennsylvania wing purveyor in its third year at the Wing Fest, seizes the opportunity to unveil new sauces—this year, it’s a “spicy ranch” sauce that’s yet to reach the main menu. 

“Our sauces make us popular,” Alliger’s manager Jennifer Wilson explained.  “They don’t contain fillers like corn syrup, and they’re 100% ingredient.  We’ve had a number of people try our sauces at Wing Fest and then buy them online.”  With these details in mind, Alliger’s title as 2009 Wing Fest Rookie of the Year comes as no surprise.

Amherst’s Hucklebuckets, in its first year at the Chicken Wing Festival, won’t be able to serve pterodactyl wings, “giant fried turkey wings dusted in a five pepper blend and tossed in a sweet and sassy HUX sauce,” because of the stock wings.  To compensate, Hucklebuckets plans to drop four new secretive sauces on Wing Fest patrons.  Still, proper preparation holds an important role.

“Restaurants around the country don’t know the best way to do wings,” said Jim Pacciotti, owner of Amherst’s Bocce Club Pizza.  “It’s a two-step process that includes frying first, smothering in sauce and then grilling the wings.”  There’s credence to Pacciotti’s statement, as Bocce topped the “Best Traditional Medium Wing” category in 2010 and regularly finishes atop the barbecue polls.

Not all restaurants are fully pleased with the set-up, like wing moguls Anchor Bar.  Ivano Toscani, current executive chef at the legendary chicken wing retailer, said, “They’re small wings—not the same wings we use at the restaurant.  Sometimes people are disappointed in them, so we’re not represented as well as we’d like to be.” 

Even so, Toscani values his relationship with Cerza, preserves the memory of Anchor Bar founders Frank and Teressa Bellissimo and recognizes the attention the festival draws to his restaurant.

“[The festival] is good for the city,” Toscani admitted.  “And, when people are done eating at the festival, many come to the Anchor Bar.” 

The wing festival may present a mild disadvantage to the vendors, but the exposure certainly compensates.  Relish the opportunity to sample sauces—there will be a bushel of options, including personal blends by sports icons Andre Reed and Elmore Smith—and appreciate the delicate preparation of each sizzling drumstick and wing.

TAGGED: anchor bar, bocce club pizza, drew cerza, hucklebuckets, national buffalo wing festival

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